Saturday 16th November 2019

£195 room hire paid

Planning for 2020


This morning session is now FULL




Interested for next year… Verona Bass, Ama Bolton, Eileen Cameron, Claire Coleman, Ann Cullis, Caroline Frances-King, Marilyn Francis, Ann Preston, Peter Reason …..

For contributors’ notes, see below.

Programme in Progress ….. The Sequence and the Times…

CONVIVIAL LUNCH 12.45 pm – 2.15pm with invited friends
FIRST PRESENTATIONS 2.15pm – 2.50pm  / three subscribers ( 35 mins max)
SECOND PRESENTATIONS 3.05pm – 4 pm / three subscribers (40 mins max)
LAST PRESENTATIONS & CLOSE  4.00pm – 4.35pm / three subscribers ( 35 mins max)

Plans So Far…..

‘Fortunate Voyagers’
introducing the afternoon with her RLS reading 5 mins. Slides now in Keynote.

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“Dearist Muther”: Phyllis writes home. Letters of her Russian grandmother ( 5 mins max)
Reader : Ann Preston


‘Under a Darkening Sky’. considering the relationship between letters home and the extraordinary truth of things.   ( 15 mins max)
Reader : Eileen Cameron

Break for Drawing Breath

‘An Ordinary Life .’ (15 mins max) Slides now in Keynote
Reader : Andrew Lawrence


‘Fathers Lost and Found’ ( 25 mins max)

Joe RyanJAA Lapwing Feb 45 small

Break for Drawing Breath

‘ Three Sisters’ (15 mins max).  Slides now in Keynote.
Reader : Penny Gardiner

Scan copy 8

‘Season’s Greetings 1945’ ( 15 mins max) Slides now in Keynote
Readers : Sue Sims, Andrew Lawrence and Ali Bacon

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GRAEME RYAN Closing the Day and the 2019 series …. ( 5 mins)

SUE BOYLE  Swansong (1 ½ mins.)



ALI BACON: ‘A friend of the family’  two short readings to trace the connection between Ali and her ancestor Charles Lowe who was a journalist, novelist and one-time  friend of Robert Louis Stevenson. 10 mins
READERS: Claire Coleman,  +1

VERONA BASSMy life from a young age was punctuated by letters. I attended boarding school from age of thirteen, and immediately started a habit of writing to my parents, which persisted into my adult life and after I had had children, living in Britain, having left South Africa. The habit of writing to and receiving letters from my mother lasted till she died at nearly eighty.  Weirdly, a letter arrived after I had heard of her death. This last contact with her familiar handwriting and the airmail stamps were the most poignant moments in my grieving. The sight of the hand on the page, the formation of the letters, the individuality, are the tangible links with a person that a handwritten letter affords, and something electronic mail does not. Mamma was trying to get to grips with Fax at the time, and posthumously I saw her hand also on a fax document, which was very strange.

My mother had accumulated shoe-boxes full of my letters over the years, and had the stress of deciding what to throw when she had to down-size.  I wonder what I would have chosen, but I was not there to do so, and so the ones that were kept were ones that she felt had special significance. How I was reflected in these letters I can no longer know, but they were the vital link to my loving parents, who waited for the long tomes to arrive….and in good times the airmail could deliver in three days! There was sea-mail too, of course, in the early days when the Union Castle Mail boats sailed in ten days to Southampton from Cape Town. Many Christmas parcels and photos were sent that way as it was cheaper.

My mother wrote loyally to whatever addresses I gave her. She wrote in good time to Poste Restante at Istanbul, Damascus, Jerusalem, Kabul, Delhi and Kathmandu! To receive my mother’s homely missives in those exotic places was re-assuring and affirming of my place in the world. I had a mother who cared, who wrote about recipes and shopping and relatives. Her concern for me was an ongoing theme, but she didn’t try to constrain me. My parents were bemused, and hoped I would return, eventually.  The airmail letters kept the link going, sometimes on the flimsy sheets with a folding format, and sometimes an envelope with the familiar border of red and blue stripes. And always they came with the colourful stamps of South Africa.

In one of the few letters I had from my father there was the heartrending little offer: ‘Just tell us where we need to fetch you, be it at the airport or at a railway station’. They would be there. His homilies usually had an element of Bibilical reassurance too, as he had a strong religious faith. My heart still lurches a litte when I see his neat curling handwriting.

My sisters wrote as well. However we were busy women bringing up children, with husbands and social lives and aspirations, so letters were less frequent.   They were honest, and often confessed to difficulties, and had the authenticity of people who knew each other well enough to tell of the deep things in life. However, they also celebrated the everyday. One of my sisters loved sewing, and a letter might contain swatches of fabric as well, with a sketch of the window drapes she was making, or the clothing patterns being tried. The other wrote about fishing on Kariba Dam as she lived in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe. Mention of hippos and elephants was ordinary. Her husband was required to serve in the country’s defence force, and this was a woman who demonstrated her capability and resilience without thinking it remarkable.

I discovered a small stash recently, reading snatches from different periods in our lives, recognizing their role in my parent’s lives as they aged, and feeling the strong bond of love in the sharing about everyday things, the bedrock of their lives.


I pull a box from the recesses under my desk, and see the collection of small books and journals that I recognize with the familiarity that knows the covers, the pages, the ribbon that holds some of them shut. What I don’t immediately know is what is inside each one, although the thoughts recorded will be part of my core, and the emotions one I will recognize from long ago. It is tempting to open one, a plain black soft cover, with fluent handwriting in black ink, not biro.

On opening it at random I am enchanted by a poem I could not remember writing, about my first meeting with my husband, and see the borrowed refrain of the time, that Sixties song: ‘Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme’ …I am instantly enchanted by the tone, the sentiment, the honesty. This is surely what journal-keeping achieves, that one preserves the freshness, the immediacy of the moment.

But I can’t afford to linger, and skim over others: finding snippets of poetry, but mostly prose, some factual notes, family history in the front of the first book. I recorded ancestral names learned from my father…and wonder how that had remained hidden while I’ve been floundering through other less personal sources, tracing my ancestors.

Diaries are first-hand sources, enlightening to myself. I wonder at the slant with which I recorded information, and especially the emotions.  How aware am I of a possible future audience?  Is it just for myself?  Is some of it not just too uncomfortable to be read by children or strangers? What is it for?

For me it is always therapy to express myself. Without the flow of words on the page I’ve not sufficiently worked through my feelings about something. By expressing it I understand it better.  But now comes the rub: the time has come to start clearing the clutter in my life. How much weight do I give to this accumulated background?   

Archives discovered many years later give insights into historical periods and we declare ourselves fascinated.  Is it vain to think that my diaries may have some historic merit?  In one instance the two books kept on the Hippie Trail to India in 1967 provided original source material for a travel writer, Rory Maclean. I read them with embarrassment to see what emphasis I gave to food eaten, and how little understanding I had of the people we encountered. They have served their purpose. Should I now be prepared to shred them?

One journal was started very consciously as a record when I became urgently aware of climate change. That was 2008. In a red journal I recorded on the left-hand page the significant events as newspaper articles appeared, and I jotted down catastrophes like floods, hurricanes, reports about the state of melting glaciers etc. On the opposite page I reorded the quiet actions in my own life to work towards mitigating these significant events:  the orchard work, trees cared for and planted, seeds sown, meetings attended, public moments (a march in Bath bearing banner with and image of polar bear…) This rather self-righteous record petered out in July 2016 towards the end of a different book (Penguin on Ice-floe on the cover)  as there was too much to record and the cuttings became hard to manage, the facts too overwhelming, the events too frequent to record…

My archives fascinate me, but I don’t dwell on them. There is the current journal to keep, the haiku that capture the essence of today, the need to write for my peers, the urgency of finding a good story to tell next time at the Raven.

AMA BOLTON : I have a couple of possible subjects. One is a grandmother, born in Russia, raised in Surbiton, emigrated 1922 to Canada with two very young children and ex-army husband who abandoned her and turned up 40 years later, by which time she was living in Italy and wanted nothing to do with him. On the other side of the family is a grandfather from Devon who repurposed a “Field Message Book” as a sketchbook in Normandy during the First World war. Later he was a successful architect and in his spare time made violins and painted in watercolour. For both I have photos, letters and other documents.

SUE BOYLE : Letters and photographs from an uncle who was killed flying air sea rescue in North Africa during the Second World War.  These begin with his training in Devon, cover his long journey down the coast of Africa for further training, and then his time based in the desert outside Tripoli.  The photographs were returned to the family, with a few exisions, after he was killed.  The letters were saved by my grandfather and passed down eventually to me.  This will be the first time they will be transcribed and shared.

ANN CULLIS : A wealth of material which could be used.

  • One short letter from a great-uncle in WW1 writing home from battlefield, he was a clergyman and writes just after Easter about improvising holy communion on Easter Sunday in a barn in a field.  Even if one is not religious, it is very moving.
  • Two letters from my great-grandfather whilst POW in Turkey in WW1.  They are very focussed on practicalities of what his wife should send in her parcels, and the weather in Turkey; but also have snippets of touching sentiment, as when he encloses a pressed rose and hopes it will get past the censors.Also the story of his bank passbook which was found on the battlefield in Egypt (a few days after they were taken POW) by an Anzac soldier who posted it back to the bank in Worcester with a lovely covering letter (he hopes the owner has survived the battle and will come home to enjoy the bank balance which is due in his favour!)  My great-grandfather did return home, and reclaimed it.
  • Letters my Dad wrote home when he was serving in northern India in 1945-47 – I’ve barely started looking at these yet, but they will be full of factual detail, not emotions (because my dad was like that).
  • The replies which my grandfather (his father) wrote to him, which really bring out my grandfather’s personality and sense of humour.  They’re very informal; he ran the family business and they often seem to be written in the office (for example – paraphrased from memory – “infernally hot day, supposed to be doing the invoices; I wish I could find that I have a mystery relative in China who has left me all their money, I’d be out of this office faster than you could see me; your mother is at choir practice this evening – I plan to go down to the club for an ale or two and watch the cricket”)
  • A few letters from my great-grandmother (Dad’s gran) in reply to letters he wrote to her from India.
  • Letters my uncle Arthur wrote home while training in the RAF; much of his training took place in the US and Canada.  He was killed on a training flight in 1942 aged 22.  I haven’t started looking at these yet.


JANET SNOWDON : Under a Darkening Sky.


Possible fields of interest for next year …..



offerings ….

ANN CULLIS : Devising / curating / programming.  Modernism Day
PETER REASON : Rise event for Bath Fringe & concert of readings on an ecological theme
SUE BOYLE : Poetry pamphlets, tradition and modernity, mixed media for writers, collaborations, the pursuit of excellence, memoir and archive, writing as journey or writing to make a mark?
AMA BOLTON : The Sea…..

other possibiliti